Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Clean and Unclean Hands

By Dan & Brenda Cathcart
Moed Ministries International

The video version of this teaching is available at:

Yeshua’s actions and the actions of His disciples fell under that constant scrutiny of the religious authorities of His day chief of whom were the Pharisees and the scribes. They saw the influence that Yeshua had over the masses and wanted to determine if Yeshua followed Torah. After Yeshua fed the five thousand, some Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to where Yeshua was ministering to the masses in Galilee.

Mark 7:1-2 NKJV 1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. 2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.

The Pharisees and scribes immediately found fault with Yeshua’s disciples, and through them, found fault with Yeshua. What is the criticism of the Pharisees based on? What is the custom of washing or immersing hands as it was practiced in the time of Messiah?

In order to understand the context of this passage, we need to understand more about the Pharisees and their motivations. The Pharisees practiced a strict form of Judaism that frequently separated them from the ordinary Jew of the time. As a result, it was nearly impossible for them to eat in the homes of Jews who were not Pharisees.[1] Some of the Pharisees attempted to live in a constant state of ritual purity or cleanness. Being clean or unclean was determined by whether or not a person came into contact with things or people that rendered them unclean. Some of these things are contact with a dead body, touching a woman during her menstrual cycle, coming into contact with the carcass of an unclean animal. Anything that comes into contact with the carcass of an unclean animal, itself becomes unclean. Anything that a woman sits on during her menstrual cycle becomes unclean and anyone touching such an object becomes unclean.

As you can see, trying to live in a constant state of ritual purity requires constant vigilance. Most state of uncleanness can be remedied by washing and waiting until evening although others require rituals of cleansing lasting seven days.[2]

First Fruits of Zion in the work The Chronicles of the Messiah, report that:

“For example, some Pharisees attempted to eat their meals while in a state of Levitical purity, a standard which assumed those who prepared the meals had done so also in a ritually pure state.”[3]

This involved treating the vessels for food with the same standards as those applied to vessels in the temple, and bathing not only before entering the temple, but whenever they returned to their homes after visiting the public market. Mark remarked on this when he explained the complaints of the Pharisees against Yeshua’s disciples.

Mark 7:3-4 NKJV 3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.

In other words, the Pharisees went beyond the scope of the Torah in maintaining ritual purity. The Pharisees believed that by eating in a ritually pure state, they were committing acts of devotion and worship that would elevate their souls and protect them from wicked character traits!

In contrast, Yeshua was not concerned with maintaining a ritual state of purity. He didn’t limit Himself to eating with the Pharisees and their overzealous interpretation of Torah. He ate in the homes of Jewish tax collectors whom the Pharisees regarded as less than Jews.

Luke 5:29-30 NKJV 29 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. 30 And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

Yeshua was more concerned with the soul of the tax collector and the sinner than He was with applying purity laws of the temple to the common home.

Luke 5:31-32 NKJV 31 Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

Yeshua was constantly subjecting Himself to situations where He would become unclean. Anyone who touches a leper becomes unclean and Yeshua reached out and touched the leper to heal him.

Luke 5:13 NKJV 13 Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him.

Being in the house where there is a dead body or where someone died makes a person unclean. Yeshua entered the home of, Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue of Capernaum whose daughter had died. He touched the girl and lifted her to her feet.

Mark 5:38-41 NKJV 38 Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39 When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping." 40 And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise.

As Yeshua was on the way to Jairus’ house, a woman with an discharge of blood touched Him making Him unclean. However, Yeshua was not concerned over becoming unclean, He was concerned with who He had healed.

Mark 5:30-34 NKJV 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?" 31 But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" 32 And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."

Yeshua didn’t stay in an isolated environment where He could enjoy the benefits of living in a state of ritual purity. He went where the people were and met their needs. The Pharisees and scribes, who should have been the ones instructing the people and meeting their needs, thought they were better than the masses. The Pharisees referred to the people, the crowds as being ignorant of the Torah.

John 7:47-49 NKJV 47 Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived? 48 "Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? 49 "But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."

When the Pharisees who came from Jerusalem to question Yeshua’s observance of the Torah criticized some of Yeshua’s disciples for not following their own practices of washing their hands even before eating common food, Yeshua called them on their hypocrisy.

Mark 7:5-7 NKJV 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" 6 He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'

Yeshua tells them their acts of devotion that they thought brought them nearer to God were empty practices! They honor God with their lips but in their hearts they were really honoring themselves! Yeshua explains that their hypervigilance about trying to prepare and eat even common foods as if they were holy did not replace obeying the Torah in other more important matters.

Mark 7:8-9 NKJV 8 "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men--the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." 9 He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.

Yeshua is telling them that keeping this tradition does not allow them to reject the Torah in other areas. Yeshua goes on to give examples where they used a legal argument to circumvent the commandment to honor their parents.

Mark 7:10-13 NKJV 10 "For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' 11 "But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"-' (that is, a gift to God), 12 "then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."

Yeshua quoted Moses’ instruction to take care of one’s mother and father. There is another commandment that says that anything devoted to God cannot be used for any other purpose.

Leviticus 27:28 NKJV 28 'Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD.

Some Pharisees were devoting property and resources to God and, then, stating that they could not take care of their aging parents because their resources were devoted to God. They were neglecting the commandment to honor their parents in favor of an optional gift to God. Yeshua is telling them that honoring their parents is a higher commandment than the optional giving a gift to God. Like the practice of artificially maintaining a state of ritual purity or treating all foods as if they were holy, giving a gift to God does not automatically make one more holy or protect them from wicked character traits. Conversely, eating food that is common does not cause one to exhibit wicked character traits. Yeshua addresses this directly.

Mark 7:14-15 NKJV 14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.

Yeshua’s disciples did not understand this short statement and asked Him about it privately. He explains that food we take into our bodies does not affect our hearts; that is they don’t affect the character. Food is taken in by the stomach and passes out through waste.

Mark 7:17-20 JP Green Interlinear   And when He entered into a house from the crowd, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you also so undiscerning? Do you not perceive that all that enters from the outside into the man is not able to defile him? This is because it does not enter his heart, but his belly, and goes out into the wastebowl, purging all the food.

Physical food does not stay in the body; it passes through. It does not cause a permanent change to the heart or the character of a person! As for the food that is either clean or unclean to begin with, one it passes through the body and is eliminated; it is regarded as ritually pure and unable to pass on ritual impurity. First Fruits of Zion in their work The Chronicles of Messiah explains:

Legally speaking, excrement cannot be ritually unclean or transmit ritual impurity… According to the Talmud, when an animal or a person eats something ritually unclean, that object ceases to be ritually unclean when it becomes excrement.[4]

Whether the food that is eaten is clean or unclean, it will pass out of the body without affecting the heart of the person. The body purges the food by making it pass out of the body, and, in the process of digesting the food, making once was unclean, clean. Yeshua did not say that all food is clean when it enters the body! He said that it did not have a permanent consequence on the person’s moral character. The things that do have a permanent effect on a person are those thoughts and actions that come from the heart.

Mark 7:20-23 MKJV 20 And He said, That which comes out of the man is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things pass out from inside and defile the man.

After this confrontation with the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes, Yeshua retreated from the crowds traveling outside of Israel proper to the region of Tyre and Sidon on the northern coast. Mark 7:24

Mark 7:24 MKJV 24 And He arose from there and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered into a house and desired no one to know it. But He could not be hidden.

While there, Yeshua has an encounter with a woman that Matthew identifies as a Canaanite.

Matthew 15:22-23 MKJV 22 And behold, a woman of Canaan coming out of these borders cried to Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a demon. 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, Send her away, for she cries after us.

The woman asks for deliverance for her daughter, but she is not a Jew. Yeshua doesn’t immediately answer her; He keeps silent. Perhaps to see what His disciples will do or say. They were insulted that such a woman would speak to Yeshua. This is very similar to their reaction when Yeshua spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Like the Samaritan woman, she acknowledges her understanding of the coming of the Messiah. With the Samaritan woman, Yeshua gladly spent two days with the people of Samaria teaching them about who He was. In this case, Yeshua draws the woman out encouraging her to state her case before the disciples.

Matthew 15:24-28 MKJV 24 But He answered and said, I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, help me! 26 But He answered and said, It is not good to take the children's bread and to throw it to dogs. 27 And she said, True, O Lord; but even the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' tables. 28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, O woman, great is your faith! So be it to you even as you wish. And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

On the surface, we may think that Yeshua is confirming that only Jews can receive salvation. Mark states that Yeshua said that the message must go first to the Jews but doesn’t state that He won’t go to the Gentiles.

Both the Samaritans and the Canaanites were considered unclean and no Jew would voluntarily have anything to do with them. However, the woman demonstrates her understanding that salvation comes from the Son of David. The woman’s daughter is delivered by her statement of faith in Yeshua.

In contrast to the Pharisees who wouldn’t even associate with their fellow Jews, Yeshua is willing to interact with and even bring deliverance to the most hated of the Gentiles. Matthew will later record Yeshua’s instructions to take the good news of the kingdom of heaven to all nations and embrace them as their disciples!

David describes the one who truly has clean hands; He is the one with a pure heart and true worship.

Psalms 24:3-4 MKJV 3 Who shall go up into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, and has not sworn deceitfully.

Yeshua corrected the vanity of the Pharisees who thought that separating themselves even from the common things of this world was the way to true worship. Yeshua pointed out that it was the things that come out of the heart that defile or do not defile a person.

Discussion Questions:

1. Yeshua too the Pharisees and scribes to task about their over-zealous application of traditions.  However, traditions are that part of our lives which bring joy, stability, purpose, and a sense of community.  How do we avoid the pitfalls of traditions from overtaking our obligations to our families and fellow believers?

2. Why is the woman’s identity as a Canaanite important in how the disciples react to her?

3. Why is the interpretation that Yeshua declared all food clean an incorrect interpretation of this passage?

4. Describe Yeshua’s ongoing criticism of the practices of the Pharisees.

© Copyright 2018 Moed Ministries International. All rights reserved

[1] The Chronicles of the Messiah, Volume 2. Lancaster, D.T. ©2014. Page 376-377.
[2] Leviticus11-12, 15
[3] The Chronicles of the Messiah, Volume 2. Lancaster, D. T. ©2014. Page 653.
[4] The Chronicles of the Messiah, Volume 3. Lancaster, D. T. ©2014. Page 764.

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